As slot machines evolve so do scammers
February 28, 2017 3:00 AM
by The Analyst
With all the changes in technology one would think it would be almost impossible for people to cheat slot machines. Sadly, it just seems that technology has only changed the methods of attack.
Slot machines have evolved from spring loaded devices to electro-mechanical devices to today’s all-digital systems, and with each generation of change the methods of cheating have also evolved.
In the old days cheats would basically try and fool the machines into thinking coins were dropped into the coin slot or would use cleverly inserted wires to either trigger jackpots or simply scrape coins from the slot hopper. (For those who have never seen a coin-operated slot machine, the hopper was where the coins would accumulate from the ongoing play and from where the slot jackpots would be paid.)
As each type of scam was uncovered slot manufacturers, casino operators and gaming regulators would adapt their systems and add defensive measures. The metamorphosis of slot machines into the current digital devices that no longer take coin, but accept currency, paper vouchers or digital credits and payout either on tickets or credits to accounts, might give the illusion of perfected security, particularly as most machines are linked to various tracking systems. Sadly, because slots machines hold cash, can payout large amounts of money and still have human interaction they remain a tempting target.
Currently there are three main points of weakness in slot machines – the bill acceptors, the random number generators (RNGs) and the player management systems, which are linked to most slot machines in today’s casino world.
The bill acceptors are the simplest. If the bill acceptor accidentally or intentionally is set up incorrectly it could take forged bills, misread denominations, accept foreign currency as local currency, all generating credits on the machine for play or cash outs. Scams involving bill acceptors tend to fall into the “one-and-done” category as they are usually quickly caught and rarely yield the cheats a large score.
Random number generators are used to create the appearance of a random event for game determination on the slot machines. However, random number generators are usually math formulas that use the time it is when a button or some other triggering action is taken as a seed number in the formulae to generate the random event for the game play.
Of course if the formulae are known and the timing sequence can be determined it is just math to figure out what the next events will be on the game. This is basically how an alleged Russian team took advantage of certain types of slot machines to take a serious amount of money.
Sadly this is an unnecessary weakness as any programmer worth their salt could stack multiple RNGs into a game and use seed times into the picoseconds (one trillionth of a second) that would make game results virtually impossible to predict. However, regulators often get in the way of making the RNGs very complex as they are charged with making certain the games are fair and conform to regulations. If the RNG’s are too complex the regulators simply cannot properly test them for compliance in a reasonable amount of time.
As commercially available computing power continues to grow in power and portability this area will remain and likely be a growing risk for slot machines until regulators alter their testing methods and acceptance standards.
The slot marketing systems are the real Achilles heel though. In this type of scam the player does not have to directly cheat the slot machine, but needs a confederate in the slot marketing department with the right access to the slot marketing system or the ability to hack into the slot marketing system.
Most slot marketing promotions offer various amounts of free play either to entice players or reward them for their play. Used right a great tool for the casino, abused and cheaters can wheel money out the door. For example, if a cheat has an inside confederate authorize their players card for $1,000 in free play and the cheat plays a low hold percentage game like Deuces Wild they could expect to convert that $1,000 free play into $980 of cash. If the cheat uses multiple false players cards with smaller amounts of free play and if the inside person used another employee’s system access, it becomes very difficult to catch. As the slot machine is not directly cheated nothing looks wrong for a very long time.
As with all scams cheaters will go to the well too often and at some point they will take enough to be noticed and caught. Once caught, systems are changed and the process of cheaters looking for ways to beat the system simply starts all over again.